New WHO guide to support child and adolescent health in humanitarian disasters

The World Health Organization (WHO) has launched a Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI) and University of Melbourne-led guide on how to manage child and adolescent health in humanitarian disasters.

The Child and adolescent health in humanitarian settings: operational guide, which was overseen by Melbourne Children's researcher Dr Hamish Graham, was launched by WHO in Cairo and covers all aspects of humanitarian disaster support from prevention to acute crisis response and recovery.

Dr Graham helped develop the guidelines alongside MCRI and University of Melbourne researchers, Dr Patrick Walker and Dr Mariam Tokhi, to support health leaders to establish, maintain and improve child and adolescent health services during humanitarian emergencies.

The researchers said humanitarian emergencies can arise from natural disasters including floods, earthquakes and famine, armed conflict, and political instability, and commonly result in large-scale displacement of people, severe food shortages, and destruction of economic, political and social institutions.

Dr Walker said: "Children and adolescents are more seriously affected than most other population groups. Protecting them effectively requires a focus not only on service provision within the health sector, but also attention to many other essentials such as water and sanitation, nutrition, shelter, logistics, and protection."

Dr Graham said the guide aimed to ensure the needs and concerns of children and adolescents were duly considered in emergency preparedness and response efforts.

"It can be really challenging for frontline program managers to navigate all the different standards and guidelines, and deal with competing pulls from different people and groups. This guide gives health managers a framework to assess, prioritise, and act – bringing together existing guidance in a straightforward way," he said.

The guide was produced by the WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean to help health managers provide care for children and adolescents in the region, covering 22 countries and territories in the Middle East, North Africa, Horn of Africa and Central Asia.

Dr Graham, said, "children and adolescents in this region are experiencing health emergencies on an unprecedented scale. More than half the countries in the region, such as Afghanistan, Lebanon and Iran, are facing significant challenges in delivering basic health care."  

The guidelines were successfully trialled in Sudan over the past few years. Dr Hiba Hussein (WHO Sudan) spoke to delegates at the launch, sharing how frontline health managers in Sudan are using the guide:

"Sudan's Darfur region has experienced protracted conflict and challenges with food security and disease outbreaks. Program managers, who have wide-ranging responsibilities and cannot be experts in everything, say this guide has made it easier to know what needs to be done and helped them become strong child health advocates".

To help develop the guidelines the research team undertook a systematic literature review, surveyed humanitarian stakeholders, and coordinated workshops to identify what frontline health managers needed. Dr Graham wrote the content in conjunction with WHO and refined it through consultation and field testing.

Dr Mariam Tokhi, a  GP working in refugee health and research fellow in 2017, who co-wrote the guide, said it provides practical information for health managers and leaders who are involved in designing, managing and evaluating child and adolescent health activities in humanitarian emergency settings from governments, United Nation's agencies to non-government organisations.

"It's my hope that the guide will help individuals and organisations improve child and adolescent health outcomes through well-informed decision-making. As humanitarian crises deepen in many parts of the world, it's more important than ever to protect the health and wellbeing of children and young people."

Publication: Child and adolescent health in humanitarian settings: operational guide. A holistic approach for programme managers. Cairo: WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean; 2021. Licence: CC BYNCSA 3.0 IGO.

Funding: WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean.